The Truth About Evil Marketers

A technical CEO learning marketing is the equivalent of a sales/marketing CEO learning development engineering.


I am not a developer.  If push comes to shove, I can code in PHP, or develop shell scripts, and truth be told, I did take a couple of ECE courses in college; courses which inexorably told me I was not going to be a developer.

My path to becoming a marketer was unusual, I think, which has had both its advantages and disadvantages.   I like to think I'm a "technical marketer," rather than what I call a "Madison Ave" marketer; not to dis the later, since they have their role to play in the grand scheme of marketing.  By technical marketer, I don't mean one who only markets technical products, or who does only "product marketing" in the industry vernacular, but rather a marketer who uses processes and actionable metrics to achieve near term business objectives that lead to realizing company vision.

IMO, development is harder than marketing.  The phrase "everyone is a marketer" is a mocking one, but it contains a granularity of truth.  Most people at one time or another promote themselves (to get a job), or reflect on messaging (e.g. self-awareness that an advertisement hit home), invent pithy, creative phrases, etc.  These things are not unique to marketers.  I am not going to claim that technical CEOs learning marketing is the equivalent of marketing CEOs learning development.  They simply are not.

That being said, the recurring theme that CEOs and entrepreneurs should avoid hiring marketers, that a marketer only "creates web sites, corporate presentations and sales materials... [and] hires a public relations agency to refine the positioning and to begin generating early “buzz” about the company," and that in the end, CEOs should formulate marketing strategy themselves, is misguided.

This is not the 1990s.  High tech marketing people don't have backgrounds in retail window displays.  High tech marketers' primary ambition is not running a Super Bowl ad.

I am the first to admit that marketing can be a nebulous concept, a vast space that includes smarmy hucksters, spammers, tin men, and all those "want 16K followers for free" tweeters you have in your DM bucket.  I get that.   But I also get this:  1) specialization of labor was fundamental to the rise of capitalism; and 2) you can't scale if you don't delegate.

The point is this:

CEOs and technical entrepreneurs need to be better educated about marketing not so they can formulate strategy or do it themselves, but rather so they can make the best hiring or outsourcing decisions and know how to evaluate performance.

When formulating a problem team and solution team, or otherwise rejecting traditional "product development" process for sales and marketing (concepts I heartily recommend), a decision to not hire a marketing (or sales) executive is arbitrary and reflects a fallacy of cause and effect reasoning.

Not hiring a VP of Marketing because all marketing professionals practice antiquated marketing methods is equivalent to not hiring a VP of Engineering because all engineering professionals practice waterfall development methodology.

Don't conflate titles with roles; hire the right person for the job.  Technical CEOs are confident in their ability to either direct engineering themselves or to hire the appropriate executive to lead that team.  Likely, the CEO will choose to hire someone who is  philosophically compatible.   The same approach should be taken with sales and marketing executives.  A CEO, however, doesn't need to be able to do marketing or formulate marketing strategy, but must be able to espouse his or her philosophy and in order to do so, needs to understand something about marketing!

One purpose of this blog is to help educate CEOs and technical entrepreneurs about marketing.

Let me know how I'm doing.    Tell me what you'd like to learn more about in comments.  Or Ask me a Question.

5 COMMENTS ON THIS POST To “The Truth About Evil Marketers”

  1. Sean Ellis September 3, 2009 at 6:57 pm

    A good marketer will generally require a fairly high salary and it’s difficult to justify this cost before the startup has found product/market fit. Once a startup is ready to transition to growth, then I do believe they should bring in the best marketer they can hire.

    • brantcooper September 3, 2009 at 9:27 pm

      Hi Sean,
      Thanks for the comment. I like your product/market fit concept. The most common mistake I see CEOs make is hiring the wrong resource (whether a firm, FTE, or contractor) who deploys the wrong marketing tactics for the stage the business is in. There are many ways of engaging with marketing people in the same way there are many ways of engaging with developers. IMO, it’s not about titles it’s about roles. The philosophy of not marketing and selling too soon and, perhaps, practicing customer development must be the CEO’s, with requisite deployment of resources.

  2. Joel Andren September 5, 2009 at 7:06 pm

    Hi Brant,

    Great post. The one thing I would add is that it would be great for the CEO to have an advisor (someone on the board, for instance) who has the status and marketing experience to validate their marketing strategy or pushback when necessary.

  3. Alisa Weiner October 15, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    I’d also advise early stage companies to consider working with a seasoned marketing professional on a contract/consulting basis. A well-defined project to identify the best customer segments and their most pressing needs can help focus a team quickly. Choose the right marketing professional, one with a track record in scrappy, early-stage businesses, and you can shave months off your test and learn journey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your Name *
Your Email *